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California company buys 300-plus acres of former sugar lands in Paia

Development options left open, but no plans to ‘flip it’

A red outline on a Google Maps image of Paia shows the boundary of the 339-acre parcel of former sugar cane land purchased by EC Paia LLC from Alexander & Baldwin. • Google Maps image

More than 300 acres of former sugar cane land at the edge of Paia town has recently been bought for almost $10 million by a private company based in Northern California.

According to Maui County property tax records, the $9.9 million sale of 339 acres of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. land was made on Dec. 20 to EC Paia LLC. It lists its member/manager in Hawaii business records as Eagle Canyon Capital. Its head is Sam Hirbod, who said he has a home in Wailea and has been coming to Maui for 20 years.

On Tuesday, Hirbod told The Maui News that his family investment and development company has no firm plans for the Paia land, which is mostly set aside as agriculture and a portion in open space.

The owner could seek a change of zoning for other uses, including commercial, said Planning Department Director Will Spence.

The land is adjacent to and mauka of Hana Highway and mauka of the Paia basketball courts. Baldwin Avenue borders the property to the northeast, and it includes the Paia minibypass.

“We have just started the process of just studying the area,” Hirbod said via cellphone from Texas while on a business trip.

His company has developed multifamily housing, commercial projects and community centers on the Mainland, he said, adding that it did not buy the property to “flip it” — that is, making some improvements and then selling it quickly for a profit.

“We are very excited about the opportunity. We looked at some of economic benefits. We understand that a portion of that property was allotted by the county to account for the growth within Paia,” Hirbod said.

Spence said Tuesday that he has to do more research to determine specific allowable uses for the property.

Hirbod explained that he got involved in the land sale “fairly late,” and that the transaction had been between A&B and Paia businessman Michael Baskin, who owns the Paia Inn. Hirbod said his company bought out Baskin’s portion.

Hirbod’s company was known as Pacific Convenience & Fuels of San Ramon, Calif.  Now the business is focused on investments and developments, Hirbod said.

The former company acquired a ConocoPhillips convenience store/gas station operation in the late 2000s, according to reports.

Now, the company will start setting up meetings with the county, the mayor and Maui County Council members as well as those with an interest in the area, Hirbod said. Community meetings will be held after the company gets a sense of its plans for the land.

“I’m a reasonable person who will always listen to good reasonable ideas. If there are reasonable ideas out there I want to hear them,” Hirbod said.

“Our mindset is long-term thinking. Our mindset is respecting (the) culture. Our mindset is adding value to the island, to the city of Paia, to the residents and to the county, as well as ourselves. It’s not that we want to do something as a cost to, a loss of, some other party,” he said.

“I love Maui. I had  opportunities (to do business) on other islands,” said Hirbod, who added that this is his first commercial acquisition in Hawaii.

“When I’m there, I’m home,” said the 46-year-old, who lives in Wailea when on the Valley Isle but also has owned other Maui properties.

Alexander & Baldwin spokesman Darren Pai said via email on Tuesday: “This sale was unique in that we received an unsolicited offer to purchase the property, and we determined that due to its size and location, a sale would not negatively impact our efforts to pursue our diversified agricultural plan.”

A&B is the parent company of HC&S, which closed its more than 100-year-old Central Maui sugar plantation last year. The company aims to transform much of its 36,000 acres of former sugar lands into diversified agriculture.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said the Paia sale “kind of caught us by surprise.”

Antone said it was always Mayor Alan Arakawa’s intent to approach HC&S and A&B to keep some of the property open as green space.

He explained that with Baldwin Beach Park across the street and the basketball courts at Lower Paia Park, the stretch would become a north shore regional park. This “Kalama Park” of the north shore would include lands along the coastline that A&B donated to the county when it bought 4 acres for $7 million for the county service center at A&B’s Maui Business Park II in Kahului.

Green space mauka of Hana Highway is envisioned for open space in the area, he said.

“So it will be green across of green,” Antone said.

The open space would not be an entire parcel, but perhaps a football-field-length sized area across from the entrance of Baldwin Beach to the minibypass. The green space could be half as wide of a football field stretching mauka.

“We felt it was the right thing to do for the north shore,” Antone said.

But he added that county officials would work with the new landowners on any possibilities.

Pai said A&B was not aware at the time of the sale of any specific requests from Arakawa.

“But we did note (to the buyer) that the parcel contained the ‘mini Paia Bypass road,’ and took steps to ensure in the sales contract that the county retained its rights to the bypass road,” Pai said.

Hirbod said he “did hear wind” of the county’s wishes for the land, but he said he had not spoken with the county about it.

“We are more than open to collaboration and doing what is right for that property,” he said. He said he’s “always open to listening” to county officials’ concerns or ideas.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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